The Ethics and Importance of the Role of Therapists in Working in Non-Ordinary States By Dr Traill Dowie and Nigel Denning · Mind Medicine Australia
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The Ethics and Importance of the Role of Therapists in Working in Non-Ordinary States By Dr Traill Dowie and Nigel Denning

6 October 2021


We would like to say something about the ethics and importance of the role of therapists in working in non-ordinary states. Nigel has personally worked in this space for 35 years in various forms including many decades in Holotropic Breathwork. We are often working with patients or clients who carry with them deep personal trauma.

This trauma can manifest in many ways and can express in completely unexpected symptoms. In working with many survivors of complex trauma, including ritual abuse, clergy abuse, intra family abuse, cult abuse, warfare, and other crimes, it is so important that we as therapists and the staff that support therapists, keep a willing and open mind to people’s suffering.

The average report time from first crime to first report for survivors of Institutional sexual abuse, for instance, is 33 years. Often this abuse has been ignored or actively repressed. It is incumbent on us all to hold the importance of the voice of survivors and to give them our belief and support.

Working with non-ordinary states and medicines can raise many deeply buried issues and traumatic experiences can manifest from many different sources, some from biographical memories, others from other symbolic processes. Projection onto therapists in this space during and immediately after sessions is not uncommon. This is one reason why, consistent with world best practice, we recommend 2 therapists always be present during trial and special access sessions, and, when rescheduling occurs, therapy sessions.

It is important that we are making ourselves and our clients safe and maintaining the most ethical and clear containers to allow this work to unfold as we develop greater clinical knowledge and skill.

Therapists who do transgress boundaries and behave in an unethical manner should be appropriately managed under legal and professional codes. Therefore, it is important that anyone working in this field be registered in a professional governance system such as AHPRA or PACFA.

Transgressions against patients in this field, like all others, should not be tolerated or accepted. The only way to create healing is to build trust and safety for all. Working together, openly supporting ethical behaviour and outing all forms of abuse and those who collude with it, it imperative.

Warm regards,

Nigel Denning & Dr. Tra-ill Dowie

Directors, Mind Medicine Training and Education

Nigel Denning

MA, MPsych

Nigel Denning is a Counselling Psychologist with 30 years of experience in the mental health sector.  He is the Managing Director and co-founder of Integrative Psychology and the Mind Medicine Institute.

Nigel’s expertise covers developmental trauma, institutional abuse, family violence, attachment disorder, relationship therapy and advanced concentration meditation.  He works with individuals, couples, families, groups and organisations.  Nigel has been involved in therapy and court reporting on several hundred cases from the Royal Commission into Childhood Institutional Sexual Abuse.  Nigel is a former Family Violence Coordinator for Relationships Australia. He has conducted research at the University of Melbourne, Faculty of Medicine, under the supervision of Professor Kelsey Hegarty on male perpetrator typologies. For over 10 years Nigel facilitated group psychotherapy for male perpetrators of family violence.  Nigel is an expert in trauma.

Nigel has extensive experience with psychedelic work internationally.  He began working with altered states of consciousness 35 years ago when he was introduced to Holotropic Breathwork through the guidance of Alf and Muriel Foote.  Twenty-five years ago, Nigel began to work with Dr Stanislav Grof, one of the leading pioneers in the clinical application of psychedelics.  Nigel co-founded the world’s first Spiritual Emergency Centre based on Grof’s work, in partnership with Tav Sparks, Director of Grof Transpersonal Training in North Carolina.  He was also lucky to meet Dr Albert Hoffman at a workshop organised by Grof at HR Geiger’s Museum/Gallery in Gruyere Switzerland. Nigel has also trained with the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and successfully completed their clinician qualification. Nigel is passionate about educating clinicians into the potential of non-ordinary state work when done ethically and skillfully.

Dr Tra-ill Dowie


Dr Traill Dowie is a polymath philosopher, academic, psychotherapist, minister of religion and martial artist. He holds dual PhDs in Philosophy and Psychiatry. Traill is a co-founder of the Mind Medicine Institute, the head of school at Ikon Institute, a research fellow at La Trobe University in Philosophy, sub-editor of the Philosophy International Journal (Medwin Press) and has also trained with the Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) and completed their clinician qualification.

Traill is a lifelong martial artist, holding black belts in multiple disciplines. He has worked professionally as both an athletic and performance coach for high level athletes, including world champions, at a national and international level.

Growing up in the Northern Territory, Traill spent a lot of time on country where he developed an interest in ethnomedicine and traditional healing practices. This interest led Traill to Dr Raphael Locke, an anthropologist, psychoanalyst, consciousness researcher and initiated Iroquois shaman. Traill apprenticed with Dr Locke in shamanic practice for 20 years and has explored ethno-medicine and traditional practices across Australia, Asia, Central America and North America. This interest in healing and state-based technologies has been coupled with his interest in psychotherapy and psychology.

Traill has 25 years of experience working as a clinician in a variety of settings including in private practice and organisations. He began his career working in eco-psychotherapy and wilderness therapy working with complex presentations. Traill has worked in both in-patient and outpatient settings focusing on the treatment of complex trauma. Traill was the co-founder of Integrative Psychology where he co-authored a paper with his colleagues Nigel Denning and Linda Tilgner, which was tabled at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. He worked with Nigel Denning to develop a protocol for individual and group psychotherapy for victims of cult abuse. Traill also chaired the Australian Counselling Association’s Trauma Standards Panel.

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